I call it christophene. But you can also call it christophine, mirliton, chayote, choko, chocho, chuchu, chow-chow, alligator pear, vegetable pear, sayote, tayota, Madeira marrow or xuxu. I’m sure there are a few I’m missing. If there’s ever an award for the vegetable with the most names, christophene is a sure contender.
Christophene is a gourd native to Central America but it can now be found in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, U.S. and, of course, the Caribbean. It’s not difficult to grow but be warned - christophene is an aggressive plant that makes kudzu look lazy. It has a very mild flavor (some might say bland) that is sometimes compared to cucumber or zucchini. Its mildness makes it versatile and it can be stuffed and roasted, added to soups and stews, baked in casseroles and gratins, or served raw in salads.
There are several varieties of christophene and you might find them to be light green, slightly golden yellow or almost white. They’re all the same and can be used interchangeably. It’s worth noting that christophene contains a very sticky sap that can be hard to wash off your hands. Parboiling the squash before cutting into it or peeling it will neutralize the sap. If you’re serving it raw, peel it under cool running water and rinse it well to remove the sap.
My introduction to the vegetable was a christophene au gratin prepared by Christiana, a superb cook who worked for our friend, Alice Bagshaw, in St. Lucia. I’m still working on my au gratin recipe but this stuffed christophene is one of Audrey’s favorites.
This is a pretty flexible preparation and I can see lots of substitutions you could make. Try switching the chicken for shrimp, crab, lobster, ground pork or even leftover roast chicken, pork or lamb. Or you could leave out the meat entirely for a vegetarian version.
4 medium christophene
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
1 stalk celery, diced
1 hot pepper, seeded and minced OR 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into 1/2″ dice
1/4 cup diced smoked ham
1/2 cup fresh soft breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley for garnish
Put the christophene and Cajun seasoning in a saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a quick simmer and boil until the christophene are tender but not mushy, about 30-45 minutes. Drain and let cool.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Cut the christophene in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds (and nibble on them if you want…they’re very soft and some people think the seeds are the best part).
Remove the flesh from the christophene leaving a shell about 1/4-inch thick (I use a melon baller but you could use a spoon too). Don’t pierce the skins. Chop the pulp coarsely and set it aside. Reserve the shells separately.
Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery and optional hot pepper and gently sauté until they are soft and just start to color (but don’t let them brown). Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Then add the chicken and salt and cook until the chicken is just cooked through. Add the reserved chopped christophene, ham, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley. Remove from the heat.
Stuff the cooked mixture into the christophene shells. (NOTE: You can make the recipe to this point up to 4 hours in advance and refrigerate the stuffed christophene. Take them out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before baking so they’re not cold when they go in the oven.)
Bake until the tops are nicely browned, about 30 minutes. Garnish with a little grated Parmesan and chopped parsley and serve immediately. Serves 4 if a serving size is two halves and 8 if a serving size is one half. One half is plenty for me, Bones and Audrey eat two halves each.